Close to Home

In the cold of a makeshift life, heaved across the frowning lines of the world, there lies a woman. It is this same woman, who upon her aching and slight body, has carried the remnants of a faraway home into a disparate and unknowable future. How heavy that life had felt upon her narrow shoulders those many thousands of miles, growing heavier as she moved further from everything she had ever known.

She is one of many, discarded like rocks upon the ground by an invisible hand. She is sleeping in the tight confines of a pitched camp, overflowing with the exiled and the fearful. It exists in one of the many forgotten places of the world, at the periphery of our vision. It is here that she opens her eyes, still dazed by the mirage of a beautiful reverie. She awakes smiling, for lingering with her is the dream she dreamt of home. She’d been walking through the streets of the city she’d grown up in, remembering when the world had been hers, and she too, had belonged to it. She moved, weaving freely down the passages of her city; its labyrinth she had mastered, having lived every inch of it.

The dream, like paper held to an open flame, exposed to the bleakness of her reality, collapsed in and on itself until it was nothing. She felt the icy air around her as the resounding waking world, where actuality tainted everything in blue hues, devoured those long ago memories; still warm, as the days they were made. She felt her heart swell, like an ocean churned in a storm, filling up with an aching hopelessness that threatened to spill over and drown her.

She could weep for her family. Cry for her mother, whose eyes she would never forget, nor let time tarnish the painful sight of their torn home, ripped apart by the sky, who had dropped chaos upon them. No not the sky, but mechanical beasts, flown by uniformed men with unseeing eyes and fuelled by the greed of far reaching giants in white government buildings. Their machines moved so fast in her sky that in their wake there was only ghostly tracks left, bread crumbs leading the displaced to fortified walls.

She could cry for her father, who had lost all words, silenced by the morning light on the dawn he’d fled his country. His eyes glistened as he walked away from his life into the unknown. His body had shook with the heavy weight of injustice that had broken many men as they turned their back on everything that had made them. How strong are those who put one foot in front of the other, as they move away from who they were and the life that was theirs, towards distant places. Towards destinations which they cannot see, but which they go to blindly, for there is nothing else to do and nowhere but there to go.

She squeezed her eyes shut and pulled her legs toward her chest, burying herself in her own body, recoiling from her entrapment. She is disappearing, with no power to emerge, falling into herself like a dying star. Where were her friends? She wanted to wrap her arms around them. They had been lost to her, swallowed up by the many bodies who had pushed past in their desperation. In fear of being last at the doors of safety and sanctuary, they had ran; mad with panic and in their masses, only to find that the door to safety, their salvation and hope, was closed to them.

Deaf were those on the other side to their pleas. Could they really not hear the cacophony of desperate voices? Those who’d risked all, arriving on boats, on foot, in the backs of trucks, with sleeping babies in their arms and hope in their eyes. They had been relieved to have made it, to have beaten death. Death, who had at times been so close, that they had felt him winding the loose strands of their hair around his bony outstretched fingers. She had felt the terror of the abandoned when they realised the doors were locked and there was no way back. They had cried, together; pulling each other close and sharing all they had. Why, she wondered, is it that those who have, fail to understand that what we get, we must give; give to those who need and have not?

The terrified and fleeing people of the world had been reduced to a headline, a rising number attached to a crisis. They were not that to her. They were people, waiting together there at the lines. Lines that she had once traced with the tip of her finger on the map of an old school book. Those divides marked the boundaries between one place and another, the seams of nations sewn together in blood and war. Territories that had writhed on the pages of time, as land changed hands. Wars were fought and waged all in the name of redrawing the lines.

Sitting inside the little shelter her family has built out of discarded metal sheets, out of nets, bricks; the strewn relics of a world occupied, there she is: a refugee, a woman. It is here she has dreams of her childhood home, of turning back time and of being anywhere but at a fence, looking through the spaces between the wire into a shimmering and grandiose world she cannot reach. Sometimes from their glass towers, looking out from there corrugated cities, the lucky imagine they see, out of the corner of their eye, a ghostly apparition watching them and imploring them to act.

However it is not the displaced but themselves that they see. A self, reflected back at them by the mirrors they have hung on their walls and in their offices, a reflection they cannot escape. If they would stop and stare deep into their own eyes, they would see the echo of something ancient there. It is known by many names, articulated in many tongues and found in all our art and altruism. It is demanding more of us. It demands compassion and empathy and trust, demanding we act with love, in love, for the love of humanity.

To see our humanity, is to force us to acknowledge her, this woman; terrified in her abandonment, her heart beating in a not so far off place. Running her fingers up her arms, she presses her lean flesh between her thumb and her forefinger. “Yes I am here,” she says into the world, a world that keeps her out of sight. She, like you, can taste the damp air. Closing her eyes, she breathes in the night as you might. She is there. Even if she doesn’t want to be, even if you don’t want her to be either. She is there and she grieves and cries, falls and bruises, lives and dies. She came into this world as you did; lost and alone, after spending months in the warm body of another. We all enter our lives vulnerable and exposed, born to a hostile world. It is at the beginning we learn that existence at its very essence means dependence. We spend our entirety reaching for nurture and for love. It starts then, from the moment we breathe our first breath and find ourselves secure in the arms of humanity. We never stop needing each other, it is the first lesson we learn and from which everything else follows, learnt there beside the heart of our mothers.

Do not let others, who have forgotten, drown out this most human of truths. For there is a voice, dripping in fear and soft with exhaustion; but continuing to speak, defiant with a hope that has been fused in the dreams she’s dreamt under stars. Stars seen sparkling in the sky from both sides of the line, by all of us. Look to yourself and you will find you can hear what she’s saying, perhaps for the first time, repeating again and again; “Yes I am here. I need you.” She’ll say it with every breath, with every rising of the sun, with every day she has life in her. For the power of mankind and the beauty of us, is our beginnings in love and our faith in it. It is why she believes that we will not let her disappear, there in that place. She is a woman; who exists without safety and protection, without basic human rights and without freedom. She lives in her dreams and exists in the dirt, at a fence we’ve built. Despite all the wars, the loss, the fear; she against all odds, exists. That means something. If there is any humanity in us, that has to mean something. If we look into ourselves, we will see that all of us are created in love and sheltered in it, and this is what it is to be human. We’ll find a voice erupting out of us, breaking the oppression of our preceding silence. It’ll be saying “Open the door and let them in.”

[Jude McKechnie]

Image courtesy of Jude McKechnie



  1. Absolutely wonderful reading. Blew me away this story of humanity. A beautiful piece of serene writing but hard hitting. I loved reading it. I think I will enjoy reading it more the second time.

  2. Wonderful and heart rending evocation of the potentially lethal injury we do to ourselves and our sense of common humanity by allowing ourselves and our governments to abandon and ignore the desperate plight of so many refugees of war, famine and oppression.

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